Once again, the New England Patriots find themselves without Rob Gronkowski, which means Tom Brady, who has been facing an injury to his tight end for a second consecutive season, needs to start worrying again.
Gronkowski started this season very late, coming back in the loss to the New York Jets in October. With him playing, the Patriots have gone 5-2. Both of their losses at home, while keeping a perfect record at home including in the huge and dramatic win over the Denver Broncos, or against the Cleveland Browns, with Gronkowski leaving the game when the Patriots were behind 12-0.
Their overall record this season, 10-3, suggests that him playing or not doesn’t really have an affect on this team. However, their declining defense means that Tom Brady needs to as MVP’ish as it gets, and it’s very difficult for him without Gronkowski, even if guys like Shane Vereen and Aaron Dobson have been doing a lot more than anyone expected.
Interesting fact number 1: Based on expected points added — which takes into account everything an offense does to move the ball and score points, the Patriots offense contributed -1.9 expected points per game to the team’s net scoring margin in 6 games without Rob Gronkowski (19th in the NFL). In 7 games since Gronkowski’s return, the Patriots offensive EPA is +8.7 per game, 4th in the NFL. Their red zone percentage went up from 40.9% to 68.7% during that time as well.
Interesting fact number 2: Gronkowski’s 24 red zone touchdowns are tied with Jimmy Graham for most in the NFL since 2011, and he’s made 63% of his receptions in the red zone.
The Patriots were ranked 22nd in the NFL (20.8 points), 27th in the percentage of drives resulting in a touchdown (14.1%) and 30th in red zone effectiveness (40.9%) in weeks 1 through 6. The wins still came, and maybe Gronkowski’s injury makes Brady less predictable. He has thrown four touchdown passes but also four interceptions when targeting his favorite tight end compared to 38 and 2 from 2010 to 2012, but almost every other number except for the wins point to a decline coming once again in Brady’s numbers, which should eventually hurt the Patriots in their chase after another Super Bowl ring.